Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Autumnal Thoughts at Equinox
10/10/2010 3:04:23 PM
Some thoughts on human illusions, eugenics and piracy. Probably the product of too many kippered herrings or Jalapeno peppers with dinner, last evening, but what the hey.
Autumnal thoughts at Equinox: Illusions, Eugenics and Piracy
There's a classic film dealing with the French occupation of Vietnam during the early 50s, the title of which I am momentarily at a loss to recall, however it has some truly memorable lines in it. It wasn't the 2003 version of Graham Greene's 'The Quiet American' (starring Michael Caine), but in this film an attractive older occidental woman has been taken prisoner by the French for aiding the Viet Minh rebels and is condemned to be executed, after refusing to reveal knowledge she has about a planned Viet Minh insurrection. The French inspector interrogating her tries his best to convince her to betray her terrorist colleagues and as he lights a cigarette, exhaling a stream of smoke in her face, says, trying to be as cruelly insinuative as possible, "I assume that, as an older women with experience of the world, you have few illusions left?" (e.g. "Surely you have no false hopes left, so why not tell us what we need to know and save yourself from a most unnecessary death?"). She simply stares at him, her face totally expressionless and says nothing, knowing that to remain silent she is irrevocably sealing her appointment with the guillotine.
It's a remarkable line of dialogue in my opinion, since it has reflective applications for all of us. As our conscious life expands from our earliest years, attempting as we do to gain the maturity and understanding that we need to survive, every one of us holds a great many unfounded illusions. We hope, fantasize, dream, imagine, anticipate wildly, expect grandly and pursue objects passionately, but as we continue to age our hopes and dreams are slowly ground down into dull ashes, one by one and bit by bit, until toward the very end of life most of us do indeed...as the French inspector stated it...have 'few illusions' left. We become through the exhaustion produced by sheer, abrasive attrition utter realists, almost entirely depleted of any remaining expectations of enriching fulfillment, through this gradual but inevitable process of confronting the bitter futilities of human life (by virtue of our damnable ability to reflect on self, our necessary frame of reference being the ineluctable fact of our mortality).
Only those poor souls who steadfastly insist on believing in some sort of personalised Supreme Being are usually able to partly stave off having to consume those final scant, and sour remnants of life's formerly full glass of hope. In such an unspectacular manner youthful aspirations for happiness and personal reward dissipate, leaving us walking down a metaphorical darkened hallway in which each open door, as we draw near it, suddenly swings closed in our face. Despite this, at times I find myself almost envying 'true believers' for their childlike naiveté in persisting to maintain 'faith' in the allegorical smoke and mirrors mumbo-jumbo that religions hide behind. These adherents of faith anticipate virtual comforts that can be neither directly perceived nor factually documented, promised by various religious creeds and doctrines. I wish my own frontal-lobe would permit such simple resolutions to the complex range of temporal problems we all face, but sadly, it does not (I guess that makes Eeyore my stable-mate, eh!).
Since watching this particular movie a few weeks ago, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on that remarkably provocative bit of philosophical drama involving the inspector and his prisoner. Reflecting on the brave "older" woman who had few illusions left....but who was therefore (perhaps ironically) more suitably prepared than others might be to embrace a fatal course that was entirely mortal and not in the least spiritual. Damn! I wish I could remember the title of that movie!
Not many weeks ago it was Labor day, an American holiday officially marking the end of summer vacation, in which over 35 million Americans suddenly leap into their automobiles and turn the roadways and highways into one big, snarling, smoggy quagmire of a traffic jam. In reflecting upon the vehicular aspects of America’s Labor Day madness, I am reminded of a vastly similar period of summer frustrations experienced in France, stretching from Bastille Day through the end of August, when it seems as if the entire Gallic nation is on the road. In the American counterpart, unless one enjoys the strong aroma of car exhausts and delights in tossing wads of cash at petrol pumps, it is a time best suited to hiding out and lying low, well away from any American destination of erstwhile recreation.
My significant other is away at the moment, having left the two pups and I for a cruise on the cool waters of the Alaskan Inland Passage, comfortably ensconced in an above-deck outside cabin with balcony. Ah! The joys of simple and complete lack of inertial compulsion on the home front! I can carelessly piss on the toilet seat, fart volubly at my leisure, let the lawn go un-mown and dine on a calorically horrific diet of beer and hot dogs to my heart’s content (should I particularly enjoy those things, which I do not). Instead of beer and hot dogs (easily cooked, since I am well versed in boiling water), I am sitting here munching on 10 year old Christmas fruitcake, in this case a particularly well preserved (read: mummified and embalmed in pure rum) chunk of Claxton’s Old Fashioned Dark Cake that has somehow survived the past decade lurking in the freezer, unconsumed, as I scan the Wall Street Journal headline that has captured my attention.
“Suspect Killed in Hostage Stand-Off” the headline reads. Reading further, I learn of a fellow described as ‘obsessed with programs on the Discovery Channel, who stormed into that program’s media offices armed with a pistol and what appeared to be explosives strapped to his chest. Described as being a Mr. James J. Lee (43) from California, what they don’t tell us but what we can plainly discern from the accompanying pictures of the suspect is that Mr. Lee is a Chinese-American, an ethnic subculture group more known for being what we call an ‘ideal model minority’ than a source of raving domestic terrorists.
Lee apparently took some of the Discovery Channel’s employees hostage at gun-point after breaking in to their offices and after a four hour drama was shot by a law enforcement sniper when he pointed his pistol at one of the hostages. Whether he really intended to kill his hostages, or whether some trigger-happy SWAT-teamer got prematurely carried away using all that expensive sharpshooting technology he was entrusted with will never be known, consequently. The three hostages Lee held forcibly were freed, after he was shot.
Events like this, in which a highly agitated individual breaks into a place of business with weapons and runs amok (perhaps killing anywhere from one to a dozen or more individuals in the process before killing himself, or perhaps only desperate for media attention) are becoming so common in today’s American society that most of us just roll our eyes, wonder somewhat absently about the person who did it and then go about our business again, quickly forgetting the incident entirely. Those of us who may possess a keener understanding of the intensely unrelenting if subtle stresses most Americans are subjected to in today’s highly pressurized American society usually have no problem at all putting the pieces together: ‘Average American worker/lover/husband/provider reaches the end of his rope, feels life is no longer worth living, feels he has no accessible resources from which to seek help, rues the unacceptable circumstances and indignities that have been forced upon him and decides to even up a score with one (or more) of his most particularly hated antagonists, taking a number of people out with him before being put down by a SWAT team sniper’s well placed bullet.’ It is a scenario that plays and replays itself over and over almost every week, judging by the recurring frequency of such violently chaotic events on the daily news.
While it is terribly sad to reflect (should one allow one’s self to do so) on the fact that in a certain sense these individuals are registering their gross dissatisfaction with the unhappy downside of the American Dream in this drastic manner, the fact is that denouements of this sort are rapidly becoming a recurrent theme in our regular, daily life. I would have perhaps therefore merely clucked my tongue over Mr. Lee’s outburst in a transcient sort of manner like everyone else, were it not for the fact that Lee maintained a website in which he recorded some interesting statements concerning what he perceived as the egregious quality of life too many Americans are forced to live.
Although reports are rather fragmented and incomplete in terms of their applicability, Lee felt (among other things) that we needed to save the planet by ‘stopping people from having babies’ (to use his terms, ‘more filthy human children’) and that we should stop encouraging ‘the birth of any more parasitic human infants’. Ah. Apparently Mr. Lee was an amateur eugenicist! He definitely had no trepidations about confronting highly unpopular subjects and making provocative statements.
That makes Mr. Lee someone who suddenly assumes a much greater interest for me than your average gun-toting, God-fearing, politically conservative reactionary berserker (a fairly good description of those to-be-pitied souls who are normally in the glare of media scrutiny for having done such drastic deeds). And in this context, I can share a lot more empathy for poor Mr. Lee than others might, perhaps, for one of my favorite themes relates to the impoverished quality of American life brought about by unconstrained breeding of those individuals least capable of assuming responsibility for the lives they create and carelessly bring into this sad world….the very subjects of Mr. Lee’s rambling on-line rants.
It’s practically basic dogma right out of the eugenicist’s handbook: The argument that human mating should be controlled or at least regulated qualitatively, since it is the demographic progeny of unqualified, uneducated, and socially irresponsible individuals mating who are substantially (at least to a large degree) to blame for many of society’s myriad woes. When a noted and highly credentialed academic writes a book about something like this, he’s typically regarded as a prescient if daring radical theorist; when an ordinary citizen like the unfortunate Mr. Lee fills web pages with unhappy and angst-ridden diatribes about welfare mothers and the sordid under-belly of our social order, he’s usually completely dismissed as a crank until he makes a violent public statement that employs a gun as an exclamation point. By the time anyone takes him seriously, he’s typically dead and so…all too often…are a number of others.
I myself have often referred to the swarming masses of humanity as ‘parasites infesting the planet’, so in at least this context I can relate to poor, obsessed, and beyond ‘ rational control’ Mr. Lee. Regrettably, selective breeding as appropriate socio-political policy is simply not something that most of us feel comfortable with dealing with directly. Given all the highly emotional (not to mention religious) baggage anything remotely smacking of eugenic sentiments carries with it, although Mr. Lee’s theory that unregulated human breeding creates much of our misery has a cogent core of truth encapsulated within it, it is simply not presently possible to force human beings to subject their breeding whims to any form of formally regulated criteria intended to enhance good genes and cull out the bad ones. After all, permitting half-baked people to indulge their most irresponsible whims is what true freedom is all about….isn’t it? (Note to the unsubtle: I’m being ironic here). To my knowledge, the only modern European state that attempted something approximating this was Romania’s Ceauşescu. Prior to that it was Nazi Germany. We all know what happened to both states and their leaders…
If I were the Great Ultimate Supreme Dictator of All Human Life on Earth, you can bet that the very first thing I would do is limit breeding among human beings to those intellectually and humanely qualified individuals whose coital compulsions would most readily guarantee that the number of Einsteins and Mother Theresas among us would ultimately outnumber and predominate over the Pol Pots, the Stalins, the Ghengiz Khans and Hitlers with which we habitually become enraptured. That is, only those who possess sufficiently high intelligence, peaceful natures and humane predispositions would be allowed to marry and have children. Certainly not ignorant, poorly educated, irresponsible and brutish individuals. If such a policy were possible, I am convinced most of life’s present problems would gradually evaporate, but as it is now, there are absolutely no constraints brought to bear on the compulsive biological rutting urges of human beings. The result: millions of ignorant impoverished and ignorant people possessed of limited means and abilities essentially mediate the quality of our life experience and dictate the everyday terms of our lives, as they succumb en masse to the influence of those who are a bit smarter than they (marketing forces, working for greedy, self-serving capitalists and their corporations) or become slavish consumers (in the American model) or mindless terrorists (in the radical Islamic model). Of course, if such conditions were ever realized, the entire American political experiment that we know as American Democratic Capitalism would melt away and vanish overnight: a thought to put into the political teapot and savor slowly, with appropriately populist delicacy.
Pirates. Ah yes, a subject that recent Hollywood movies (and hundreds of old ones) have reestablished in the foggy collective dimness that passes for popular mass cultural awareness. Don’t blame it all on Johnny Depp with his ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ series, though. Every once in a while our ability to associate reality with factual history stutters a bit, as the Hollywood fantasy machine merrily cranks out yet another implausible, inaccurate, yet highly entertaining version of how humanity managed to keep from collectively soiling itself under the extreme duress of previous periods of human excess.
Reading through a few good books on the subject, it very quickly becomes apparent that the average person knows as much about what piracy was all about as he does about politics and common sense. Since it is now October, with that new chief national holiday (replacing Christmas) Halloween almost upon us, the number of silly media advertising promotions involving pirates has noticeably been on the uptick. Handsome pirates (all looking more or less like Johnny Depp) and fantastical, exotic pirate women (all resembling Tia Carrere, more or less) abound. ‘Sexy pirate’ is a particularly popular adult female Halloween costume in stores and costume shops, I’ve noticed. What fails to connect are the facts that real pirates were almost 99.99% desperate men, given to ravishing and rape when the opportunity afforded itself (which it seldom did) and sodomy/buggery was more a way of life than a theme in a slightly more risqué modern romance novel.
One particularly interesting (and highly readable) book on the subject of pirates is author Robert Carse’s 1957 work titled ‘The Age of Piracy’. Carse pulls no punches, but neither does he gild the lily in laying forth a factual analysis of exactly what historically accurate ‘piracy’ was all about. In addition to identifying the three major areas of classical piracy (the Caribbean or ‘Spanish main’, the Indian Ocean, and the Barbary Coast), Carse explains how many terms we commonly toss into conversation that are associated with piracy (like ‘buccaneer’, ‘freebooter’, etc.) came into being and he reveals fascinating details such as the fact that seldom was the black skull & bones flag ever flown by Caribbean pirates (a blood-red flag was more often the preferred banner). He also explains many things about the personality and temperament of the Caribbean pirates that are surprising, given the deceptively popular ‘Treasure Island’ stereotype of a peg-legged old sea-dog, replete with shoulder-parrot and eye-patch (“Arrrrrrh, matey!”) foisted off on us by Walt Disney and Company.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Carse’s researches into piracy reveals the primary role that religion (specifically the age-old internecine Christian clash between the Roman Catholic ‘true church’ and Calvin’s Protestant rebels) played in creating all the immense social havoc and turmoil that characterised Caribbean piracy from the mid-1500s through the late 1700s. Specifically the devoutly Roman Catholic feudal dominion established by Spain in its Central and South American colonies, with its bloody ‘Spanish Inquisition’ running in full tilt, concurrently. While a very interesting dynamic, it doesn’t surprise me very much to read about this, since the single most common thread of violent social disruption running throughout Western Civilisation has always been ensless squabbling over whose god is the more ‘legitimate’ one. In a greater sense, taking that model to its world-wide, larger arena, argument over the legitimacy of religious belief has been the single most consistent source of human savagery, brutality, violence, mayhem and mass murder that any one individual can recollect or enumerate in the entire the history of human affairs.
How particularly ironic, then, that despite centuries of advanced scientific thought and technological enlightenment, human beings are today still totally obsessed with matters of religion (e.g. the modern Christianity versus Islam conundrum and many others), almost to the point of complete exclusion of all other secular concerns. At any rate, piracy is a subject that the average individual today has absolutely no clue about (like so many other subjects dealing with history) and what little actually is known by that hypothetical ‘average public person’ has been largely formed and shaped by the entertainment fantasy machines of Hollywood.Mindful of all the above, the next time you go to a Halloween party for adults and encounter a woman dressed as a ‘sexy pirate wench’, try to refrain from what the prototypical classical Caribbean pirate would have done (and that’s ravish her on the spot), since in 1600s period reality ‘she’ would have been the closest cabin boy at hand and there’s just no room or excuse for pederasty in today’s modern ‘civilised’ world (I just wish we could convince all those Roman Catholic priests of that important fact… Oh well.)
Contrary to popular myth and enduring Hollywood fantasies that have grown up around the whole piracy schtick (thanks largely to Tyrone Power and Johnny Depp), pirates of the Spanish Main were not generally known for their gallant and chivalrous treatment of any women they happened to come across in the course of their piracy and pillaging.
Aloha mai e!
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