Sometimes, sitting in the sand staring into the embers of a dying campfire or standing outside in the middle of the night staring up as waves of silver cloud break across the face of the full moon, my mind strays to the world of humankind (or “humanunkind,” as I believe E.E. Cummings put it), and an image as cold, dark and heavy as an iron anvil, lands in my mind, and sits there, motionless and implacable: the human situation. There are various phrases that seem to fit the vision, but the best is probably the briefest: “The jig is up.”
Back when I was at university, in the 70s, the world seemed bursting with promise. When JFK led off his presidency with the words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” it triggered a tidal wave of idealism, eventually encompassing the Civil Rights movement, the Peace Corps, the War on Poverty, the social and artistic counterculture led by Gary Snyder and company…. Even our initial intervention in Vietnam began with small units of Special Forces and Marine Corps troops living out in the country, alongside the locals, carrying out Peace Corps-style grassroots development projects while recruiting and training local militia. (Knee jerk leftists may scoff, but read books like Once a Warrior King or Village in Vietnam if you doubt my words.
The war went to hell when JFK’s vision of winning over the Third World’s hearts and minds was abandoned in favor of “destroying the countryside in order to save it” by a Pentagon dominated by a generation of intellectually bankrupt, firepower-happy officers, but it began with the best intentions, carried out by courageous, self-sacrificing troops captivated by the young President’s dream, emotionally bonded to the Vietnamese they lived among.) Simultaneously the counter-culture, which had begun so promisingly, degenerated into a commercially corrupted, politically elitist mass movement of aimless hedonism. So much of what had started out so promisingly ended, not with a bang or a whimper, but worse, a grotesque echo of the worst of the past.
For all of its faults, and its eventual unlovely demise, I find myself dreaming, hoping against hope, that that natal moment will come again, but we are still living in the deafening echo of the Bad Old days: racism, imperialism (far from dead, trust me), genocide, cruelty for its own sake, the “fine arts” degraded into ugly exhibitions of “irony” and “outrage,” all this and more played out against a suicidal ever-accelerating plundering of the planet and the deliberate destruction of the last traditional tribes and traditions that might offer the means to our salvation, because, let’s face it, the only thing about to spring from the world of the internet et. al. is Yeats’s “rough beast, its hour come round at last”….
To be continued…