Monday, November 14, 2005

Spend the Loot

The gal puts curlers in her hair to hold what she, not her genes, not the weather, put there. Maybe she perms it, sprays it, as well. Maybe she looks good, maybe she looks like a horse’s ass: point is, it works: for a while. But after a few night’s sleep, a few rain storms, that curl is a faded memory. After enough centuries her skull in the tomb looks pretty much like any other skull. Long enough later, there may not even be a skull.

If "nature" had put the curl there, eventually, "she" still looks just like any other skull, or, like nothing at all.

The thief grabs her purse. Quick: scores, and shoots up. The cops grab him. "Where’s the money?" Guh, guh ... He’s still on the nod. If the cops grab him in time, they can give the gal her purse back, the money still in it; or they can go have a beer, or donate the cash to St. Patrick’s Firemen.

If the thief is quick enough, there’ll be nothing to pay back.

When Napoleon grabbed the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, took it to Paris, it wasn’t the sort of thing that could easily be "spent." Centuries later a different "French" government could give the stone back to a different Egypt. And there could be all sorts of good excuses: We were putting it to good use; you were ignoring it.
It’s not quite the same with the Elgin Marbles. "Greece" was doing "nothing" with its classic architectural heritage. Greece wasn’t selling textiles to the world, sailing all over hell and gone, taking tall trees from Maine for ships’ masts, impressing sailors, soldiers ... Lord Elgin swiped the marbles, put them in London, where, thanks to all the sailing around and impressing of sailors and manufacturing textiles and hiring Cockneys into a new slave class, London got socked into a pollution such as the world had never seen, at least not associated with man. The marbles started to rot: faster than they were rotting left where they’d fallen at the Acropolis. England swipes marbles. Oh, sure: they were "putting them to use." England centuries later can give back only dust.

Guh, guh. On the nod.

Peoples swept across Asia, pushing other peoples. Sometimes they would have ousted the evictees nose to nose, spear to club, arrow to a stone cutter that fit the hand, machine gun to wooden staff. Sometimes the evictees would have receded before the advance, and the rousters would never have seen their costumes, heard their babble. Same in Europe, same in the Americas. What if, eons later, the "Chinese" felt bad, said they were withdrawing back to Mongolia, invited the Polynesians back to their "China" ... Say the Polynesians recognized themselves to be the true Chinese, wanted the mainland again: the China they got back would be only the ashes of the China they’d fled.

If the English gave Australia back to the natives, would they take the rabbits and cats back with them? Even if they did (even if they could, even if there were an England capable and willing of receiving them back), would the ashes of Australia then satisfy the natives who once had a very different ecology?

Modern kleptocracies in-common close their books at the end of the year. The values of the purses that they snatched are in their arm, burbling around in their blood streams, or long ago excreted, taken by the bacteria.

Columbus could have given the West Indians back their islands meaningfully only if he did it before he scored and shot up, before the King of Spain scored and shot up.

What if God specially resurrected Van Gogh, put him back in contemporary Arles, Paris, or Amsterdam: or Philadelphia or Tokyo. Could Van Gogh say to any effect, "Those are my paintings. You have no right to them. Give them back"? Could MOMA, could the Barnes, meaningfully say, "Oh, why don’t we buy them from you?"
Where would MOMA get new billions of dollars? What about the "owners" who got multi-million dollar write-offs when they "gave" the paintings to MOMA? When Barnes bought the Van Goghs for $20, $40, $80 ... maybe $200, did the dealers have a right to sell them?

If Australia gave Australia back to the natives, what would they do with wealth they had actually created, wealth they had a legitimate claim to? Much is stolen, but much is innovated too, earned.

Well, it’s beyond me. But I don’t believe it’s beyond God. God has got to be able to find a way to punish the junky purse-snatcher and to compensate the poor girl: who had a little curl, whose purse was snatched.
Surely God must have some way of knowing what contents of her purse were legitimately hers and what devolved from thefts she cooperated in.
(If you’re paying taxes on land snatched from the Mohawk, you’re cooperating.)

Now just a goddamn minute, pk. Who’s this goddamn God? Is this the same one who couldn’t find Adam hiding in the tree?

No, no, no. Sorry. I misspelled it. I meant god: the intelligence behind how blood clots, behind the Four Basic Forces ... behind evolution ... cybernetics, information ... behind how any cubic hectare of reef is every bit as complex, as simple, as any human brain, as any human city ... behind we don’t know what all (if indeed it’s intelligence that’s behind it).
Christians tell us that justice can never happen here, but assure it transpiring after death: in heaven and in hell.
I don’t believe that humans are capable to distinguishing earth from life from death from heaven from hell.
I believe that earth is just one of infinites of petri dishes in god’s "lab." I believe that god puts one kind of culture in one dish, infects it with a disease or two, watches what happens. god can then throw the dish away, clean and sterilize it, extract some of the resultant culture and move it to a new dish. god can throw a culture he likes out into the garden where it can take its own chances. Or, in a new dish, he can infect it with still other new diseases ...

Now just a goddamn minute, pk. You mean this "god" of yours is really just like God after all? just maybe a little smarter?

No, no, no. Sorry. I believe nothing of the kind. I’m just fantasizing: and trying to communicate something
using your language.

Social truths cannot be uttered in university natural languages: like Standard Written English. Only macroinformation can rise an inch off the pavement, only art.

PS This draft isn’t bad, it says some of what I mean, but it also totally missed a couple of the illustrations I’m meant to put near the climax: illustrations not standard to anthropologists’ litanies:In the 1960s Ivan Illich was developing his critique of rampant American culture, cresting for example in Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Illich said that American trucks, exported to South America, could be more harmful than American tanks placed in the same places. The tanks could run things over, knock things down, burn and kill; but the trucks would addict subsistence cultures to tools it could never afford to keep up with. Roads would have to be built, a whole new (expensive) infrastrucutre would have to be inserted. Tanks would destroy some things; trucks would destroy everything. Suddenly, Illich, the Church’s most popular priest, the priest clearly closest to Jesus (and to St. Francis) in the two-millennium-long history of Christianity, was suddenly persona non grata.
Ours is the society of business: of greed enthroned, of no-questions-asked profit as our summa-theologica. Yet when Illich’s books sold surprisingly well, when paperback editions became best sellers, his books disappeared!
Ah! So profit wasn’t our only consideration after all. What we value even more is no criticism, no intelligent criticism.

Illich showed us how a people could shrug off centralized, top-down rulers: the public must network itself, obviate our reliance on hierarchy. (This from a priest!)
I recognized Illich’s design to be the internet I had been awaiting since 1960. Disregard the governments’ insistence on licenses, certificates, centrally-approved performance ... and people might judge for themselves. Soon, their judgments would necessarily improve: survival-driven. (And if they didn’t? Tough nugies.)
Immediately I told Illich, "I’ll do it." Over night I was answering correspondence with other mushrooming local nets (and licensed schools, universities), telling them how I would coordinate all the local nets into an internet. (Understand: network was a word conspicuously used by Illich; neither of us said specifically "internet"; the concept had been coined, but not the word.

Illich’s books disappeared from print, from the book stores. Fewer and fewer libraries acquired them. Illich’s speaking engagements in the US shrank. I witnessed him being invited to say more on TV by Hugh Downes, I witnessed him squeezed out, no explanation offered, Downes’ invitation was just silenced.
Illich’s books disappeared; pk’s never appeared.
Americans practice their "free speech," universities practice their academic freedom, only the way the Soviet practiced its highly ideal constitution:
when convenient.

At first, by late 1971, pk’s FLEX (Free Learning Exchange, my seed for an internet) was getting free publicity right and left. Several dozen people were using it.
Then, all at once, we got no new publicity: and our contributions dried up: from two cents, to one cent, to no cents: and my volunteers finally fled: before we were tarred and feathered.

PPS This post is emphasizing theft and displacement over innovation, invention, new earnings. I’m aware of that. For some purposes I live with that flaw. Maybe Barns put his $40 Van Gogh into a nice frame: the frame belongs to Barns, not at all to Van Gogh. Barns and a host of others made the Van Goghs "worth" forty-, sixty-million dollars. But it was Van Gogh’s style they were doing it with.See? Right there: Van Gogh’s style doesn’t exist in isolation: MOMA, Barnes, were also using business’s billions, governments’ tax systems ...The baby can be killed, but there’s no way to give the father’s part back to the father and the mother’s part back to the mother once their union goes the way of all unions.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we refrained from improving things until we actually owned them?
I’ll bet god’s petri dishes have more than one genius hiding their light under a bushel until the correct green light comes on.
In the Seven Samurai Rikichi’s wife smiles in silence as the bandits’ stronghold burns around her. She refrains from shouting Fire. She’ll die happy knowing that some of her rapists will burn around her. (Maybe she even knows that her husband is among those setting the fire! Ah, but regardless, she knows she’s now damaged goods.)

No comments: